The Beth-El Holocaust Torah’s journey to Fort Worth
Photo: Courtesy Beth-El Archives
The Beth-El Holocaust Torah cover was designed and needlepointed by the late Ellen Mack. It says “Am Yisroel Chai” in Hebrew, meaning “The Jewish People Shall Live.”

In 1942, the Nazis seized Jewish ritual objects from synagogues across Czechoslovakia and shipped them to Prague to be tagged and catalogued. Among those objects of Judaica were 1,564 Torahs. Three decades later, one of those sacred scrolls was shipped by jet from London to Dallas, then delivered by courier to the ark at Beth-El. 

Join Beth-El Congregation Archivist Hollace Weiner and Rabbi Emeritus Ralph Mecklenburger at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 27, downtown at the Central Library to learn about Beth-El’s Holocaust Torah and its perilous journey from a Czech farming village, to a drafty Bohemian warehouse, and across the English Channel before it arrived in Texas in 1971 for a new lease on its spiritual life. 

The illustrated lecture coincides with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a United Nations observance that marks the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz on Jan. 27, 1945. The U.N. Holocaust Remembrance Day differs from Yom HaShoah, Israel’s memorial day for the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Observed in Jewish communities worldwide, Yom HaShoah falls a week after Passover on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. It will be observed April 27-28, 2022.

The downtown lecture, titled “Journey of Temple Beth-El’s Holocaust Torah from Nazi Peril to Renewed Life in Texas,” is free and open to the public. The program starts at 6:30 p.m. and will be held in the Tandy Lecture Hall at the Central Library (500 West Third St.). Parking meters and the garage at 345 West Third St. are free on weeknights.

Hollace Weiner

About Hollace Weiner

Hollace Ava Weiner, a native of Washington, D.C., is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Maryland. For a decade, beginning in 1986, she worked as a news reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.  She left the paper in 1997 to finish a book, “Jewish Stars in Texas: Rabbis and Their Work,” published by Texas A&M University Press. This book was followed by four others, among them the centennial history of River Crest Country Club. Hollace contributed chapters to the books “Quiet Voices: Southern Rabbis and Civil Rights” and “Grace & Gumption, Stories of Fort Worth Women” and to the award-winning book “Texas Women and Ranching.” Her chapter in the ranching book is about Fort Worth native Frances Rosenthal Kallison, the only Jewish woman in the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame. (Hollace nominated her!)  As one book led to another, Hollace enrolled at UTA for a master’s degree in history and archives. For the past 20 years she has been volunteer director of the Fort Worth Jewish Archives, which has offices at both Beth-El Congregation and Congregation Ahavath Sholom. During the pandemic, the Star-Telegram rehired her to write a monthly local-history column. She loves writing for hometown readers.

Ralph Mecklenburger

About Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger

Recognized as a peacemaker and mediator, in 1984 the rabbi was drawn into a clash over busing and desegregation. Years later, in 1999, an African American minister who led years of protests against the public schools agreed to meet with the school board only if the rabbi was part of the mediation team. An advocate for equal rights, in 1991 the rabbi quietly sponsored a gay man, the director of the AIDS Outreach Center, for membership in a high-profile service organization. When the civic group rejected his nominee, the rabbi worked for change from within and years later was elected to its board of directors. “Rabbi Ralph is everybody’s rabbi,” remarked a police officer assigned to the mayor’s office.

Within the Jewish community, Rabbi Mecklenburger mended fences, diminishing rivalries among local congregations. He established a joint worship and scholar-in-residence program over Selichot, the weekend prior to the High Holidays. The Temple board approved “associate memberships,” so that congregants at the Conservative synagogue could join Beth-El with half-price dues and enroll their teens in the Temple Youth Group. When Chabad-Lubavitch established a Hasidic house of worship in Fort Worth, Beth-El loaned its rabbi a Torah. Never territorial toward other Jewish denominations, Rabbi Mecklenburger wrote in the Texas Jewish Post in 1999, “We all know Orthodox Jews who have become Reform and Reform Jews who have chosen Orthodoxy. That is healthy and has served to keep disaffected Jews in the fold. . . . Pluralism is not only ethically right, it is good for us.”

The rabbi’s pen proved prolific and provocative. When Sunday newspapers published a B.C. comic strip in 2001 that pictured a menorah melting into a crucifix, he slammed the cartoonist in an op-ed column for “portraying one of the world’s major religions as extinguished.” When the movie “The Passion of the Christ” premiered in 1998, he critiqued it for the Star-Telegram, writing that it “represents the worst of Hollywood pop-culture, glorifying violence rather than the best of Christian spirituality.” When presidential candidates railed against Muslim immigration to America, he countered with a newspaper column that stirred online debate.

With a gentler pen, the rabbi has written more than 400 eulogies over the past three decades, warmly describing the strengths and even the quirks of the dearly departed. Masterfully, he delivered sermons, with gravity and levity, linking current concerns to passages from Torah and Talmud. All the while, he was synthesizing his thinking and theology into a landmark book, published in 2012 and aptly titled “Our Religious Brains.”

— Submitted by
Hollace Weiner

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